I received an e-arc of this book via NetGalley as part of the blog tour organised by Random Things Tours. This did not affect my opinion of the book in any way.
Published: February 2022
‘Power is not something you are given. Power is something you take. When you are a woman, it is a little more difficult, that’s all’
1768. Charlotte, daughter of the Habsburg Empress, arrives in Naples to marry a man she has never met. Her sister Antoine is sent to France and, in the mirrored corridors of Versailles, they rename her Marie Antoinette.
The sisters are alone, but they are not powerless. When they were only children, they discovered a book of spells – spells that work, with dark and unpredictable consequences.
In a time of vicious court politics, of discovery and dizzying change, they use the book to take control of their lives.
But every spell requires a sacrifice. And as love between the sisters turns to rivalry, they will send Europe spiralling into revolution.
CW: a content note is available on the author’s website.
The Embroidered Book is a magical, captivating book re-imagining a key period in European history and focussing on two pretty remarkable sisters.
Charlotte and Antoine are daughters of the Habsburg Empress and they have always known that their lives would be spent in service of their mother’s wishes to strengthen their empire. Still, when they find an embroidered book containing mysterious spells, they spend their childhood growing closer and closer together as they try to unveil its secrets.
Time passes quickly and very soon they will be sent away from home to marry complete strangers: Charlotte will go to Naples to marry a hard and cruel man; while Antoine is destined to France, where she will have to shed all traces of her Austrian origins, including her name. In the lavish mirrored corridors of Versailles, she is renamed Marie Antoinette.
Very soon, the two sisters find that the book and its spells are the only way for them to take control of their lives. But all magic comes at a price and, as sisterly love slowly turns to rivalry, all of Europe may have to pay it in blood.
I really enjoyed this book from start to finish! The late 1700s are a fascinating historical period in their own right and become absolutely irresistible when paired with magic and a focus on women’s lives and experiences.
Charlotte and Antoinette were wonderful characters to read about. They’re complex, flawed women who are trying hard to carve out some space and power for themselves in a world where they are seen as little more than ornaments and whose primary purpose is producing an heir for their powerful husbands. The magic system was fascinating and very clearly explained and coherently maintained throughout. Nothing is free, as every spell requires a sacrifice: the bigger the spell, the higher the sacrifice.
Seeing the two sisters adopt competing approaches to the use of magic was incredibly interesting. While Charlotte joins a secret brotherhood that advocates keeping the use of magic restricted to a select few, Antoinette forms her own inner circle with the goal of ultimately making magic accessible to all. Both approaches have their flaws, and treachery abounds on both sides as certain individuals pursue their own individual power over everything else. Watching it all slowly unfold into the big historical events we all know (and knowing where the road would end for some of the characters) was extremely satisfying, even if painful as I grew attached to these characters more and more.
My only problem with this was that, even though I was mostly glued to the pages, certain sections (especially towards the middle) felt slightly too slow-paced and dragged a bit for me. This isn’t necessarily unexpected in a book as long as this, but it was just a bit too much for my taste. Still, it more than made up for it in the rest! Definitely a must-read for historical fantasy lovers.
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